Big Week by James Holland

Subtitled “The Biggest Air Battle of World War II” this book tells the story of the combined bomber campaign in the last week of February 1944.  That means Eighth Air
Force, Fifteenth Air Force and Bomber Command.  That was a week with several thousand bombers and almost as many fighters over Germany every day.
Of course the story starts much earlier. 2/3s of the book are about set up.  Everything from pre-war theory to aircraft and weapons development. Continue reading

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They Shall Not Grow Old

This new movie from Peter Jackson is truly unique and special.  It is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and is told entirely through period images with veterans’ voices providing narration.

Join me for a look at a project aimed at history buffs and film buffs alike. Continue reading

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Willys MB Jeep

Few vehicles are more synonymous with a national war effort than the American Jeep.

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Join me for a brief look at an iconic light vehicle. Continue reading

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The Battle of Midway by Craig L Symonds

Do we really need another history of this well documented battle?  Well maybe not need, but this book proved to be a much appreciated addition to the what’s out there.

This book is purely a narrative history; that is it tells the story of the event like a novel. This is always the best sort of history for gaining familiarity with an event.  But Midway is already well served on that account including such classics as “Incredible Victory” by Walter Lord, “Miracle at Midway” by Gordon Prange and “Shattered Sword” by Parshall and Tully.
What this book contributes is as a completely modern reconstruction of the events.  That matters for a few reasons, and I don’t really mean the promotional sort of “this will change our understanding of the battle!” nonsense that seems to appear in advertising material for almost every new book.
The first thing that matters is just that available material has changed over time.  I remember years ago talking to a friend who had been a Marine Raider based on Midway Island during the battle who made the comment “the Army B-17s won the battle with no help”.  He wasn’t real pleased when I said the B-17s never hit a thing.  During the war, the Navy was not willing to even admit they were there because it all tied back to code-breaking.  So for years every press account only mentioned Midway Island based AirPower and the B-17s got the headlines.  After the war the truth came out but certain details were still kept discrete; and even when Incredible Victory was published in 1967 Walter Lord had to be a little cagey about how the Navy knew to be there.  The full intelligence wasn’t declassified until the 1980s.
I’d also say the American and Japanese perspectives weren’t really well reconciled until Shattered Sword was published in 2005.  Not to say earlier writers made no effort; there were interviews with Japanese veterans (John Toland really excelled at this in “But Not In Shame” and “Rising Sun”).  And of course “Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan” by Mitsuo Fuchida was published in English in 1955.  But these are all basically survivor anecdotes and not serious research.  Some Japanese historians did do more critical work looking at official records, issues related to doctrine and even relevant engineering data. But again, Shattered Sword was the first time English readers got a good look at that.
There are other more recent revelations like the Hornet Air Groups “flight to nowhere” being thoroughly re-examed in this century.

Which all goes to say a modern narrative of the battle has been tweaked a bit.  So what Craig Symonds delivers is an excellent and very readable description of a very complicated and very important event.  The book is about 350 pages long, the first 150 of that is background including a nice telling of the Battle of Coral Sea.
I also really appreciate the writer’s attitude towards all the main players.  He makes an attempt to understand decisions made by each and every one of them.  In some cases this is fairly unique; I think many current writers assume Stanhope Ring was actually trying to loose the battle single handed, none of that here.  Of course that means this book is a little short on mean spirited gossip, but I’ll call that a win.  I found it refreshing to read a fair minded attempt at actually understanding what Ring might have been thinking on that morning.
For any fan of air and naval action June 4, 1942 is familiar and epic in almost every sense.  I’d recommend studying this battle in almost any form, and this book may be the best fully modern narrative history of it I’ve seen.*

~ Dave 

* Keeping in mind “Shattered Sword” is more a deep analysis and told heavily from a Japanese perspective.  That’s no criticism, it just isn’t quite a “narrative history”.

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Engineers of Victory by Paul Kennedy

This book was certainly an interesting surprise.  I was expecting something more specific about equipment and weapons development during the Second World War.  The subtitle is about “Problem Solvers”.  It might have been better called something like “How Things got Done”; or a “celebration of mid-level leaders”.

The 370 pages of text are broken into five lengthy chapters examining different critical campaigns from January 1943 to July 1944, and looking at the nuts and bolts of how they were won by the allies.  It certainly isn’t a narrative history, more of a deep analysis.  And that may be the very thing that kept it interesting for someone who has read far more on this period of time than I can even remember.  The five campaigns, or specific challenges, dealt with here are The Battle of the Atlantic, Winning Air Superiority over Western Europe, Stopping the Wehrmacht, Amphibious Operations in Europe and Conquering the Vast Distances of the Pacific.

In each of these chapters the author weaves together all the details, the complexity, the interconnectedness of things needed to make things work.  I found that fascinating from beginning to end.  It is so often true when we read campaign or battle histories we come up short on greater context, but this book provides context in abundance and helps us keep track of how all the details come together. Whether its the cavity magnetron, T-34 testing at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, mating the Merlin to the Mustang or amphibious theory by Pete Ellis; there is just a staggering level of stuff here.  As is so often the case with “big picture” stories like this there are several detail errors on little things, naturally I most notice it on aircraft but I’m sure other readers will have some other little nits to pick.  But it really is just in the little stuff I have some complaints.

Fascinating and fun book.

~ Dave 

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Yet Another (!) Day at the Museum of the United States Air Force

No doubt this is one of my favorite places on Earth!  So when the newly restored Memphis Belle was rolled out for display I made another journey to Dayton.

I don’t know all the behind scenes politicking, but apparently when the City of Memphis was unable or unwilling to provide an indoor display for this important relic it was reclaimed by the Air Force for restoration and an appropriate display.

The nose art is slightly different on either side.

This airplane was often presented as the first American bomber and crew to complete 25 combat missions over Europe to earn a well deserved trip home. There is a slight fudge in this, one or two other crews actually completed their missions before; but the Belle was the first plane to take its crew all the way back to the US after its tour.  It went on war bond tours and on long term display in Memphis before ending up at Wright-Patterson and the Museum.
Three of the crew went on to fly B-29 missions over Japan, including pilot Robert Morgan.

As a bonus, the Museum’s IMAX Theater was showing a newly restored print of William Wyler’s 1943 classic movie Memphis Belle.  This was from the original 16mm film that has been kept by the film-maker’s family.  So it was better quality to begin with than even the prints that first ran in wartime theaters.  The restoration removed all scratches and was in vibrant color.  Just stunning to see.
Also note this was a wartime documentary NOT the Hollywoodized 1990s movie.  It was filmed on bombers in combat, camera crews suffered injuries and one cameraman was killed.  It really drives home the mood of the time and has an understated power about it. And it’s really something to see both the artifact itself and a 75 year old movie it starred in.

Lend-lease could flow both ways. Is this an honor or a travesty?

This is not a small museum! I’ve been more times than I can count and it’s always a full day.

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Display Area

I’ve mentioned my model shop being down for a basement remodel, well I thought I’d share a look what’s been done with the main part of the space.  46B0C262-5648-4FCB-A501-4AA480290226

The major part of the newly finished space is a home theater, with sections I call office and library.  But of interest to this site is significant model display space!

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My wife and I have been in this house for 18 years and we’ve discussed doing something with this space almost from the start.

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Now that the Dave Cave is complete I can work on getting the model shop back up and running.

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